Saturday, March 08, 2008

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

To me, the most important thing about reading a book on the craft of writing is that it makes me want to pick up a pen or turn on my computer and write. Yes, it has to be engaging, and yes hopefully it will teach me something new or help me approach an old process with a new frame of mind, but what I love are the books that light a fire under me.

At the top of my list is the book that I have highlighted the most sections and written the most margin notes in. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg is a book that I have seen referenced over and over, and upon reading it I understood why.

Natalie Goldberg is the author of nine books, as well as being a poet, painter, and teacher of writing in Northern New Mexico. Her website features information on her newest book, tour schedule, classes and workshops, as well as her selection of books.

Ms. Goldberg's book focuses primarily on writing practice-- the mere act of sitting down with pen and paper and writing. She has six rules for writing practice, from "Keep your hand moving" to "Go for the jugular." She urges writers to not cross out and not edit themselves during these practice sessions, just keep your hand moving across the page and don't be afraid to write what comes to mind. That particular passage may all be garbage. So what?

In any other art form, it is expected that you will practice. How many of us took music lessons as children and were assigned to practice for a certain amount of time a day? We may have rejected and rebelled against the idea, but where would we have been without it? The initial sketches of a painter and the hours of practice for a concert violinist are not for an audience, they are just to learn. Why should the writer be any different?

One question I hear frequently from new authors is "How do you come up with ideas?" What they need to understand is ideas tend to generate more ideas. When you start sifting through your brain and asking "What if?" questions, you begin to find more and more ideas and characters ready for the taking. By engaging in Ms. Goldberg's writing practice, you are using one method to get there.

The chapters are short, which is another thing that I enjoy in books of these natures. If you are stuck, it is easy to open to one and find an exercise or anecdote to restart your story. Some are as short as three paragraphs, but each still has a strong message to convey.

Writing Down the Bones will most likely always be in my list of most-loved books. It neglects the business side of the creative process, which I think is exactly what people need when they first think "I'd like to write a book..."

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